Monday, August 19, 2013

El bloqueo

Prior to going to Cuba, I was well aware of the embargo and the contentious relations between Cuba and the United States. I was still eager to hear from Cubans themselves--to understand their perspective and how they felt--yet worried that they would be hostile towards me because I was an American. However, I was pleasantly surprised that this wasn't the case. Every Cuban I came across was friendly, resourceful and very much open to discussing their views regarding U.S.-Cuban relations. What really struck me, nonetheless, was the way in which they talked about these issues. They were clearly very passionate about the topic and had really strong feelings about our government--my government. There were many times where I felt uncomfortable having such conversations... not because I wasn't knowledgeable about the things they were saying or because I couldn't think of ways to "pick their brains," but because I was simply dumbstruck. What do you do in a situation where you, yourself, disagree with some of the actions your own government has exerted against another country? Do you just bash your government to empathize with the other person? Or do you support your government's actions despite your disapproval? For a moment, I felt that I was being personally attacked for things that I, myself, was not responsible for. Then it dawned on me. I was not in Cuba to try to justify or take responsibility for my government's actions. All I could do was listen to what these people were telling me, keep an open mind and draw my own conclusions. I didn't have to necessarily choose a side, so I didn't. I chose to learn instead.

As an international development graduate student at AU, I was specifically interested in learning how the 50 year old embargo has hindered Cuba’s development agenda throughout the course of its existence. I have always been intrigued by Cuba and its intertwining history with the United States but the more I learned, the more I wanted to know.
  • First, I learned that Cubans don’t call it an embargo; they call it “el bloqueo,” or a blockade. As one of our guest lecturers best articulated, the difference between an embargo and a blockade is the simple reason that an embargo is unilateral while a blockade is not. When one country interferes in the affairs of two other countries, that is a blockade and that is specifically what the United States is doing by prohibiting other countries from engaging in trade and investment activity with Cuba. To me, it makes perfect sense.
  • Second, I learned that the blockade has been detrimental to the nutrition and health of the Cuban population. Cuba has a very poor supply chain for domestic food production with 30% of food production being lost along the supply chain due to inefficiencies (compared to the global average of 5-10%). In addition, because sugar and tobacco have been the historical crops in Cuba, the country has been forced to diversify its production base to include other products for domestic consumption. The food rationing system introduced in the 60s has become more expensive overtime with more items being continuously excluded from the scheme. Due to these reasons, among others, Cuba exports 80% of its food consumption from other countries, making the Caribbean island highly vulnerable to economic shocks, animal diseases and climate and weather conditions in other countries. How does the blockade play a role? Well, since trade with U.S. counterparts are highly restricted, Cuba must import food items from other distant markets essentially making the costs of these goods more expensive. With regards to health, the U.S. claims that it does not deny medicines and medical supplies to Cuba, but the terms of the blockade make it extremely difficult for Cuba to acquire medical products from U.S. companies. Furthermore, because U.S. pharmaceutical corporations and affiliates own approximately 80% of the patents in the global medical industry, Cuba simply cannot access certain medications that could potentially curtail diseases and even deaths among its population, especially illnesses inflicting children.
  • Third, I learned that blockade costs the U.S. between $1.2 and $4.84 billion annually in lost sales of exports—or the equivalent of 6,000 new jobs in America. The Cuban government, however, estimates the loss to its economy at a much lower-but-still-considerable rate of approximately $100 billion over the semi century period or $2 billion annually. All things considered, the blockade has undeniably affected every aspect of Cuban life in every way, shape or form.
  • Lastly, I learned about many other issues hindering development in Cuba. For instance, I learned about the housing crisis in Cuba as over one million homes in Cuba, or 39% of the country’s residences, are in merely adequate or frankly poor condition, in addition to the acute housing shortage of over half a million homes. There are simply not enough homes in Cuba to sustain the Cuban population. This brings me to my next point-- the fertility rate in Cuba is in a vast abyss. The Cuban fertility rate is below its replacement level and has been for many years, which means that the current labor force will not be able to replace itself in the near future and that a population decrease is to be expected as death becomes imminent. At the current rate, Cuba will have one of the oldest populations in the world by 2025, and it is expected that it will never arrive at 12 million Cubans.
While gathering research for my final paper titled "'Cuba: 'El bloqueo' and the quest for survival", I came across several useful resources that I would like to share. Some of these sources were recommended by lecturers in Cuba; others were recommended by professors on AU's campus and, finally, the remaining I came across on my own. I hope you find them as useful as I did!

The blockade itself
Cases and aspects about the U.S. Blockade
Cuba vs Bloqueo --> HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
CUBA’S REPORT Resolution 66/6 of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba"
Lamrani, Salim. The Economic War against Cuba: A Historical and Legal Perspective on the U.S. Blockade. New York: Monthly Review Press. 2013. Print.
The UN’s perspective
Statement by H.E. Mr. Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, at the United Nations General Assembly on item 41: “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. New York, November 13, 2012.
General Assembly Renews Call for End to Us Embargo against Cuba
Impact on nutrition and health
Barry, Michèle. "Effect of the U.S. Embargo and Economic Decline on Health in Cuba." Annals of Internal Medicine 132.2 (2000). Print.
Cuba's Public Health Seriously Damaged by the US Economic Blockade
Cuban Vaccine for Advanced Lung Cancer Extended to Primary Health Care
Garfield, Richard, and Sarah Santana. "The Impact of the Economic Crisis and the Us Embargo on Health in Cuba." American Journal of Public Health 87.1 (1997). Print.
Kirkpatrick, Anthony F. "The US Attack on Cuba’s Health." Canadian Medical Association 157.3 (1997): 281-84. Print.
The Economic Impact of US. Sanctions with Respect to Cuba
The Future of Health in Cuba
US Agricultural Sales to Cuba: Certain Economic Effects of US Restrictions
US Economic, Commercial and Financial Blockade Affects Cuban Children with Cancer
US Transnational Refuses to Sell Medical Equipment to Cuba

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